Friday, October 10, 2008

2 Columbus Circle: For the Record

2 Columbus Circle: For the Record

In two powerful articles timed in sync with last week's opening of the "new" Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff condemned the destruction of the original 1964 Edward Durrell Stone building, reiterating points that he raised years ago, before it was too late. This time, let's hope, his words won't fall on deaf ears.

In the first article of his one-two punch, Ouroussoff writes that, whereas Stone’s building “occupied a crucial niche in the city’s architectural memory,” MAD’s project “is a victory only for people who favor the safe and inoffensive and have always been squeamish about the frictions that give this city its vitality…We’re left with an image of New York that has been scrubbed of any real meaning.” Click here for the full article, dated 9/26/08.

Then, the very next day, Ouroussoff followed up with a stinging piece called, “New York City, Tear Down These Walls,” in which he put the newly scrubbed version of 2 Columbus Circle in the same category as Madison Square Garden, Trump Place and the Javitz Center—buildings that Ouroussoff thinks ought to be knocked down because they “not only fail to bring us joy, but actually bring us down.” The paragraphs on 2 Columbus Circle are copied below. For the full article, click here.

LANDMARK WEST! led this 10-year preservation battle at its climax with an advocacy campaign that pulled out all the stops. Working with colleagues throughout the city, state, nation and the world, we used every conceivable tool in the preservation arsenal (press, petitions, protests, lawsuits) and even invented some new ones (online panel discussion, “ShameCam” web coverage of the demolition). We did everything in our power to convince the Bloomberg administration to do the right thing, let the Landmarks Preservation Commission give 2 Columbus Circle the public hearing it deserved, and preserve the integrity of New York City’s process for protecting the places that matter most to its citizens. For more on the history of the campaign, and some thoughts on lessons to be learned, go to

Now the price of letting politics subvert the mission of the Landmarks Preservation Commission is clear. We need leadership that says, “Never again,” and empowers the Landmarks Commission to act when our city’s heritage is at stake. Otherwise, 2 Columbus Circle and all of the other treasured places that have been sent to the landfills in recent years will have been lost in vain.

Excerpted from “New York City, Tear Down These Walls” by Nicolai Ouroussoff, September 28, 2008

2 COLUMBUS CIRCLE Edward Durell Stone’s building, which opened as the Gallery of Modern Art in 1964, incited one of the most bitter preservation battles in recent memory. Its defenders, who ranged from the writer Tom Wolfe to youthful preservation groups like Landmarks West, hailed its faux Venetian exterior as a slap against the prevailing standards of mainstream Modernism. Detractors, who would have been happy to see it leveled, mostly held up their noses, denouncing its swanky d├ęcor and cramped galleries as an urban eyesore.

The result? Everybody lost. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was too cowardly to render a verdict and never reviewed the case. The building was turned over to the Museum of Arts and Design, which gutted it to make room for new galleries and stripped away its white marble exterior.

If the city had chosen to preserve it, a key historical landmark would still be intact. If the building had been torn down, a talented architect might have had the opportunity to create a new masterpiece on one of the choicest sites in the city. Instead we get the kind of wishy-washy design solution that is apt to please no one: a mild, overly polite renovation that obliterates the old while offering us nothing breathtakingly new.

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